Emergency / Disaster

5 Ways an Organization Can Better Utilize Employees During a Crisis

Grainger Editorial Staff

During an emergency, the safety and security of your facility comes down to just two factors: your plans and your employees. Employees play a vital role in your crisis plans, helping to keep themselves and others safe while responding to an emergency. With strong, tested business continuity and disaster recovery plans that cover all potential major and minor disasters and set clear roles for leadership and employees alike, your facility stands a better chance of maintaining a safe environment.

You can involve employees in your crisis plans in five key ways. When your employees own the plan, test it, drive communication up and down, leverage their useful skills and spot hazards before they become disasters, they help you reduce risk and increase overall preparedness.

Own the Action Plan

Though it may come from an executive office, an emergency preparation plan is not actually executed by the leadership team. The most important role that your employees can play during a crisis is to own the plan before it even happens.

What is the business continuity plan? A business continuity plan helps your employees understand what they need to do to get facilities, processes and team members operational and productive after a crisis.

Employees do not need to make big changes to own their part of the plan. The first step is to have employees actually review the entire plan. Once employees gain familiarity with the plan and their role, they will be tasked with taking ownership for a specific action, department or duty. Generally, this may mean leaving the facility during a disaster or knowing when to return to work after an emergency.

Employees need to do more than read the plan or know it exists to be prepared. To fully utilize your employees and enhance overall preparedness and safety, each member of the team needs to have a role in testing the plan.

Test the Plan

The most important action that employees at any level can take to enhance your disaster recovery and business continuity plans is to regularly test the plan. Your plans are only useful if employees know them, and with the right practice cadence and tools, you can encourage regular testing.

Running annual or quarterly drills helps refresh employees on their role in the plan. OSHA recommends training employees on the plan and their role at hire, whenever the plan changes and at least annually. More frequent, smaller drills can be run by individual teams or employees. These drills should behave as if an actual emergency is happening, and rely on any tools or communication systems you have in place.

Teams with particularly significant roles in the emergency plan, such as maintenance and management teams, need more frequent drills. Creating a safety plan is more than a one-time activity. You will need to reevaluate, adjust, and update your plan regularly –  20 percent of large businesses spend more than 10 days per month evaluating and editing their safety plans.

Drive Communication Up and Down

Most employees already have a manager, and possibly other employees reporting to them. This hierarchy can be a useful tool during an emergency, allowing senior leadership to rapidly push vital crisis communication down to employees. Employees can also push information “from the field” up, identifying hazards or new risks.

Utilizing normal hierarchy to communicate carries a double benefit. Not only can you rapidly push messages down to the team by relying on managers to inform their own team, but you can also rely on employees knowing where to go to get vital communications during an incident. Because employees are already used to getting daily information from managers, the team becomes naturally more organized and prepared to receive instructions during an emergency. Before or during a disaster, managers can also be used to route employee observations up to leadership, so that more informed decisions can be made.

Tools can also help drive critical communications during a disaster. Incorporate systems that alert predetermined employees to a disaster or help guide and support employees during a crisis into your plan. Even if lines of normal communication fail, your plan will be actionable.

Leverage Useful Skills

Depending on their role or background, certain employees may be asked to take on exceptional roles in the emergency plan. Those with emergency preparation, medical or maintenance backgrounds may be asked to take specific actions during an emergency to keep facilities running or provide safety and medical services.

These types of employees are easy to identify in the plan. Look for workers with a background in emergency medical work, including those trained as EMTs or first responders. While more employees could benefit from training, nearly half of your current team likely knows CPR and can play a first aid role during a crisis. These types of roles can be reinforced with special recognition or compensation. Consider implementing training for CPR or first aid as part of your plan to increase the number of prepared employees. Employees that are CPR or first aid trained are most useful when combined with the right safety equipment, including Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs), first aid kits, and other PPE.

See Something, Say Something

With the most eyes on your facilities and operations, employees can act as early warning systems for emergencies that have yet to happen. Plans often account for only the most severe and infrequent disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes, but may miss more common incidents that employees can spot, like spills, leaks or potential workplace violence.

Offer easy ways for employees to report problems, even anonymously. Popular techniques include phone lines or email inboxes specifically for reporting problems. If you offer employees simple ways to maintain communication about potential hazards, you gain more visibility and time to prepare.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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